Right-to-Repair Advocates Question John Deere’s New Promises

Right-to-Repair Advocates Question John Deere’s New Promises

Deere’s new agreement states that it will ensure that farmers and independent repair shops can subscribe to or buy tools, software, and documentation from the company or its authorized repair facilities “on fair and reasonable terms.” The tractor giant also says it will ensure that any farmer, independent technician, or independent repair facility will have electronic access to Deere’s Customer Service Advisor, a digital database of operator and technical manuals that’s available for a fee.

The memorandum also promises to give farmers the option to “reset equipment that has been immobilized”—something that can happen when a security feature is inadvertently triggered. Farmers could previously only reset their equipment by going to a John Deere dealer or having a John Deere-authorized technician come to them. “That’s been a huge complaint,” says Nathan Proctor, who leads US PIRG’s right-to-repair campaign. “Farmers will be relieved to know there might be a non-dealer option for that.”

Other parts of the new agreement, however, are too vague to offer significant help to farmers, proponents of the right to repair say. Although the memorandum has much to say about access to diagnostic tools, farmers need to fix as well as identify problems, says Schweitzer, who raises cattle on his 3,000-acre farm, Tiber Angus, in central Montana. “Being able to diagnose a problem is great, but when you find out that it’s a sensor or electronic switch that needs to be replaced, typically that new part has to be reprogrammed with the electronic control unit on board,” he said. “And it’s unclear whether farmers will have access to those tools.”

Deere spokesperson Haber said that “as equipment continues to evolve and technology advances on the farm, Deere continues to be committed to meeting those innovations with enhanced tools and resources.” The company this year will launch the ability to download software updates directly into some equipment with a 4G wireless connection, he said. But Haber declined to say whether farmers would be able to reprogram equipment parts without the involvement of the company or an authorized dealer.

The new agreement isn’t legally binding. It states that should either party determine that the MOU is no longer viable, all they have to do is provide written notice to the other party of their intent to withdraw. And both US PIRG and Schweitzer note that other influential farmers groups are not party to the agreement, such as the National Farmers Union, where Schweitzer is a board member and runs the Montana chapter. 

Schweitzer is also concerned by the way the agreement is sprinkled with promises to offer farmers or independent repair shops “fair and reasonable terms” on access to tools or information. “‘Fair and reasonable’ to a multibillion-dollar company can be a lot different for a farmer who is in debt, trying to make payments on a $200,000 tractor and then has to pay $8,000 to $10,000 to purchase hardware for repairs,” he says. 

The agreement signed by Deere this week comes on the heels of New York governor Kathy Hochul signing into law the Digital Fair Repair Act, which requires companies to provide the same tools and information to the public that are given to their own repair technicians.

However, while right-to-repair advocates mostly cheered the law as precedent-setting, it was weakened by last-minute compromises to the bill, such as making it applicable only to devices manufactured and sold in New York on or after July 1, 2023, and by excluding medical devices, automobiles, and home appliances.

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Lauren Goode

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